I’m not a big poetry person—I get it, but I don’t understand it, much in the same way that I get why people believe the earth is flat but I don’t understand why they do. When I found out Sadie Dupuis aka Sad13 aka the founder of Speedy Ortiz wrote a book of poetry called Mouthguard, I worried it would be unapproachable for me, a country bumpkin for whom poetry always came off as a little, how do I put this delicately, melodramatic.
If you consider yourself a fan of Speedy Ortiz, you’ll find Mouthguard, out now from Gramma Poetry, unintentionally resembles the band’s earlier work like Major Arcana. They were both written around the same time, while Dupuis was accomplishing her MFA in poetry at UMass Amherst and touring with Speedy. Several themes touched on in Mouthguard—dark magic, witchcraft, open wounds, legs—are also explored in the band’s earlier work, but poetry allows Dupuis’s sense of humor and insecurities play out in a way that you won’t find in her songs. I can’t explain how—again, not a big poetry person—but I can promise you that it’s there.
I spoke with Dupuis about the book, her ringback tone, and how poetry works for her as an art form. Plus, catch the premiere for the new video for Speedy Ortiz's “I’m Blessed” from their latest album Twerp Verse below.
Noisey: Do you... have a ringback tone?
Sadie Dupuis: I sure do. It’s the Hamster Dance. I did it as a joke on tour but it seems to make people very happy so I kept it.
What was it like returning to these poems and getting them ready for print? Was it like visiting an old journal?
Yeah, it really was except—I don’t know if you journaled when you were a kid—when I go back to my old stuff I’m like, Oh this is so funny, I wouldn’t want to touch it I want it to be exactly as it is, as this sort of record. Whereas because I wrote these as an adult, it’s not that long ago but it’s long enough that I’m not really precious about the poem. I wasn’t a harsh editor, but I could look at stuff with different eyes and sort of see what was working and what wasn’t and things that I was very married to at the time of first “finishing” the manuscript were not the things I thought were the strongest when I went back to it a few years later to edit. That was a nice privilege to have that time. I didn’t really look at the manuscript for years. It wasn’t like I spent years editing it every day and making small tweaks, I kind of finished it, spent three years working really really hard on it, and then I was like, I don’t want to think about this, I want to do music full time. I’ve been doing both at full speed ahead for these past three years and I’m really stressed out and need to only focus on one.
How much cutting do you feel you ended up doing?
Maybe between five and ten [poems] altogether from the original manuscript. But the original manuscript hadn’t gone through a lengthy editing process it had just been me presenting my best work as a culmination of a master’s program so it hadn’t been through a true editing process.
"I'm Blessed" from Speedy Ortiz's 'Twerp Verse'
Do you feel you have closure over it now?
Yeah! Having spent so much time working towards finishing a book and then having it sitting on my computer and maybe every couple months I’d catch up with friends from my program who had some amazing new teaching gig or have another book out or whatever. I was so proud of them but I also wished my thing had come out. It’s finally real!
There are a lot of themes of magic and witchcraft, but this theme of skinning and cavities and the open flesh wound images. What was behind that theme?
The original title of this book was A Scalpel. I was very interested in emotional pain and how that translates to the body so there was lots of medical stuff and wounds and really exploring a lot of that imagery to get to some kind of feeling. That was a very recurring, not obsession, but an interest in my writing at the time.
You were also going through some health stuff at the time, do you think that had any effect on the overall focus on the body?
Yeah, I’d had a number of medical issues and chronic health issues that now that I’m older I know how to cope with. I’m certainly in way better health now than I was at that time but it was like I moved to this new place for the first time and didn’t know anybody and then became very sick right away so I think that was, you know ‘write what you know?’ I think I was really trying to write through whatever sicknesses I had and I was very very lonely so I kind of just put anything I was trying to understand about myself I wasn’t really doing it in conversation I was doing it through this writing.
Did it feel weird or isolating to return to those poems?
That's one of the things that‘s nice about having been removed from it. It's been four years since I finished even the most recent one—things that I might have felt self-conscious about publishing four years ago don’t really feel [that way] because the wounds aren’t really fresh to me and I can’t tell you exactly what was going on in my head at that time and I can enjoy it more as a participant. In the same way you don’t want to totally brutally reveal everything that’s going on in your mind when you do any kind of art, but now that I have some remove from it, I don’t know what the exact meaning of all of the pieces are. So I can kind of appreciate them as a reader and there are poems in there hat make me feel like, this is really sad, or, this is really lonely. But I don’t really feel like it’s me, because it’s been so much time and there are so many poems and poets that I appreciate who, you know, I read them for those things. I read them to tap into those feelings.
"You’re drawn to lonely art because you don’t want to feel that way anymore." —Sadie Dupuis
Loneliness is kind of a hallmark in lots of people’s art and people are drawn to that kind of art because they want to feel like they’re not the only one with that kind of feeling. You’re drawn to lonely art because you don’t want to feel that way anymore. In revisiting this stuff I could recognize those feelings and as someone who doesn’t really feel that way anymore, I still enjoyed reading that work.
When you were revisiting these, was there anything that surprised you?
There’s some snarkiness to it that I wouldn’t maybe employ as much, or judginess of myself.
Did you storyboard these poems out, or put them together based on how you were feeling?
When I first did the manuscript I was in Europe, so I did it on the computer. I had this order and I sent it to my friends who are writers who I think are smarter than me and asked their perspective on how to order the poems, and of course I had my teachers who were really instrumental in putting the book together. But then, coming back to it four years later I was like, huh… I don’t know about this thing I did in a van four years ago. And then I had a different order and I sent it to Gramma, and they had another idea for an order and I would print that out and sit with it and read it four times, take note of what transitions worked, and what didn’t, and then go back and edit it and send them something. It’s much more intuitive to me to sequence a record because for that you’re looking at what BPM is going to segue into this BPM, these songs are in the same key, does that mean they should work well together. Whereas with poetry, you’re really just looking at the emotional depth of what the poems do to one another in sequence.
Catch Speedy Ortiz on Tour:
11/27/18 – Boston, MA @ The Sinclair +
11/28/18 – Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church +
11/30/18 – Holyoke, MA @ Gateway City Arts ^
12/1/18 – Burlington, VT @ ArtsRiot ^
12/2/18 – Woodstock, NY @ Colony ^
4/27/19 – Ferndale, MI @ Ferndale Spring Fever.
+ w/ Palberta
^ w/ Guerilla Toss
Annalise Domenighini is a writer based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.